Millersford ARDE Superintendent, the Lancaster Crash and an unrecognised hero?

Group photo of staff at S.A.E Millersford in 1945
Vera is to the right of name plate.

Roy Pilgrim was the Superintendent of Millersford ARDE, the Static Explosives experimental site in the location known as Turf Hill.

He can be seen in the 1946 group photo of the team at Millersford made available by Vera Storr: Group Photo with names – SAE Millersford – 1945

Recent correspondence from Gordon Pattison who is writing an official history of Fort Halstead, which MOD is exiting in 2021. He has worked at Fort Halstead for 22 years and have an office in a museum we have created so that in due course the public can see what we have done there. ARD which was the parent organisation of the wartime Millersford range was renamed several times, but the HQ has always been at Fort Halstead. When I joined in 1985, it was known as RARDE. Today it is known as the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and my title is Dstl Fellow. I have appended my office email if you prefer to contact me at the office.

He shared two stories with us about Roy Pilgrim which follow below:

The Lancaster Crash

On the matter of the Lancaster crash at Millersford described by John Robinson and Betty McCarthy who were based at Millersford and have passed on their memories of the incident that no one witnessed, but all have various experiences with the aftermath. As John comments: Amazingly, no one was killed, although, as I recall, the bomb aimer had a broken nose and two broken legs – the rest of the crew suffered only minor injuries. Because of the highly secret nature of the project, a detachment of the RAF Regiment was detailed to guard the wreckage. A day or two later, one of the men was sitting on the tail with his leg bent upwards, his mate was fooling around with his rifle which discharged. The bullet entered his mate’s leg twice – first in the shin, and then in the thigh, resulting in injuries more severe than those of the crew.

Gordon Pattison recounts that Roy Pilgrim drove up to the aircraft after it crashed in the range’s tractor and attached something around the cockpit which allowed him to reverse and literally rip the cockpit open so the aircrew could get out. At this point the Lancaster bomber was on fire! While a number of the Millersford staff received the George Medal for acts of extreme bravery during the war, Roy’s only reward for this heroic feat was a bill for the destruction of official property, namely 2 blankets. I expect he thought this was quite funny, but if I had been his boss I would certainly have put him up for a bravery reward.

Post Millersford 1946

After the war when the UK was effectively forced into developing its own atomic weapons programme. Roy Pilgrim became a main player in the testing programme and participated or ran most of the trials. You can see him in the group photograph at the 1952 Operation Hurricane test in the Monte Bello islands, described in the book ‘Test of Greatness’ by Brian Cathcart. He was also present at the US atomic trial in 1946 known as Crossroads, one of the very few UK people allowed to attend (I have his notes on that one). So clearly he was held in high regard by the Americans. He ended his career at Aldermaston.

You can find more memories of Millersford Experimental Work Below

Armaments Research Department – Millersford Overview

Group Photo with names – SAE Millersford – 1945

Vera Storr – Memories of a secret blast tester at Millersford Range

Barbara Smith – Memories of the secret work at Millersford Range

Betty McCarthy – Memories of assistant photographer at Millersford Range

John Robinson – Blast Pressure Group. Armaments Research Test Range – Millersford Range



Date: 1940

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